Coronavirus Healthcare & Coronavirus Hospitals & COVID-19 NHS & COVID-19

NHS nitrile gloves supplied by factories accused of migrant exploitation

NHS nitrile gloves supplied by factories accused of migrant exploitation

Investigations carried out by the Guardian over the course of the past two years have uncovered that NHS nitrile gloves have been supplied by factories accused of migrant exploitation. The factories implicated in this scandal are both Malaysian-based firms – WRP and Top Glove, which is the largest nitrile glove manufacturer in the world.

Human rights concerns in the Malaysian rubber industry

The rubber industry is one of the backbones of the Malaysian economy. Malaysia is responsible for the manufacture of 60% of the world’s rubber. The country is home to many of the leading firms in the industry. Top Glove alone operates 40 factories across the country and is responsible for fully 20% of the world’s nitrile glove manufacturing. Top Glove’s Malaysian factories employ more than 11,000 employees, many of whom are economic migrants from poor countries, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal.

Malaysia has some of the highest rates of modern-day slavery in the world, and the rubber industry is not exempt from these high levels of corruption. The industry employs many poor workers, many of whom are immigrants who are unable to speak their new country’s language and don’t fully understand its laws. This leads to many migrant workers immigrants, finding themselves subjected to unsafe working conditions and little to no pay.

An investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 found that migrant workers at Top Gloves factories were being paid just $2 per hour to work 12 hour shifts six days a week. On top of this, ABC News has reported that the company is pushing an initiative called ‘Heroes for COVID-19’, which has seen workers encouraged to spend up to four hours per day making yet more rubber gloves on their days off. This has reportedly seen factory employees working up to thirty days in a row without time off.

How have the manufacturers responded?

Top Glove executives have responded that these allegations are based on a misunderstanding of foreign employment issues that have already been resolved. The firm also points out that its factories comply with local health and safety standards, and that it has won awards for its standards of conduct.

How does this affect the NHS?

Top Glove and WRP factories are both suppliers to NHS supply chain, the organisation that supplies 40% of NHS nitrile gloves and other PPE to hospitals and clinics across the UK.

Allegations of the mistreatment of workers raises the question of how we can source NHS nitrile gloves while ensuring that the industry’s most vulnerable workers are protected from exploitation. News of alleged corrupt practices by suppliers is the last thing the NHS would have wished to hear at a time when the industry was already under pressure to acquire enough PPE to deal with the pressure caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

The NHS response has been to argue that they take all allegations of labour law abuses very seriously, so any suppliers reported to be exploiting their workers will be investigated and dealt with appropriately.

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